This morning, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and several of our human rights partners took the momentous step of suing the Trump administration in federal court, with the aim of stopping the illegal actions of the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights.
The commission’s stated purpose of providing “fresh thinking about human rights discourse” is not only deceptive, it raises a glaring red flag coming from an administration that has repeatedly trampled on human rights over the last four years. This commission, formed in secret last July, is nothing but a dangerous vehicle being used to advance a discriminatory agenda.
Close scrutiny of its operations show that many commission members have made atrocious statements about LGBTQI people, denounced a woman’s right to choose, downplayed the existence of economic, social, and cultural rights, and have even expressed support for violent dictators. These members were all chosen without public input and without a single serious human rights practitioner included among their ranks. Furthermore, business has been conducted in a deliberately opaque fashion, in direct violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires groups that provide recommendations or advice to a federal agency to maintain a balanced membership, fulfill a public interest need and operate transparently.
Following the commission’s work as closely as possible since its inception, we are particularly concerned about its naked attempts to export the administration’s misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic agenda to the rest of the world and curtail the rights of LGBTQI people and women. As a human rights organization dedicated to equity and social justice, we have fought long and hard to ensure human rights protections for vulnerable populations around the world, from overturning Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, to seeking accountability for violence against transgender women in Honduras, and opposing the criminalization of reproductive health services in the Dominican Republic.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed disdain for what he describes as the “proliferation of rights.” But my 41 years of experience as a human rights activist and lawyer have taught me to recognize that this is far more than a fundamental misunderstanding of the law. It is the very same dangerous ploy used by autocrats around the world to justify their extreme agendas and pick and choose who they deem to be deserving of rights protections. Fundamental to the international human rights movement born out of the ashes of World War II is that human rights are universal and interdependent. No one right is more important than another. And the Trump administration’s cherry-picked panel of academics has no place in changing that now.
The Commission on Unalienable Rights’ discriminatory work must be stopped, quickly. Without action we risk the destruction of decades of progress by the human rights movement and emboldening oppressive regimes everywhere.
It is my hope that you will support Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights—and our partners at Democracy Forward, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality, and Global Justice Center—in our efforts, remembering the ideals of my father which we have been inspired to carry out in the 52 years since his death:
“Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted; when we tolerate what we know to be wrong; when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened; when we fail to speak up and speak out—we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”
With hope and appreciation,